Chris reluctantly went with the others for lunch. Mrs. Walker asked about Vin and Josiah said he was holding his own. They all ordered chicken and dumplings and she left to fill their order. When the food was brought Chris ate but nothing had any taste. He knew Nathan was holding something back. Chris only ate part of his lunch when he stood up and walked out without saying a word.
"Damn," Buck cursed "This is really eating him up."
"Well sure, Buck," JD said. "I guess Chris is feeling guilty that he shot Vin."
"Which is natural a reaction," Ezra added. "Even though it was an unfortunate accident our fearless leader has shoulder the responsibility."
"I shudder to think what will happen if Vin doesn't make it," Josiah said quietly.
"Don't talk crazy, Josiah, Vin ain't gonna die," JD said shocked. He looked at the others and didn't like what he saw. "Right?"
"Yeah, Kid, he'll make it," Buck answered trying to reassure JD.
JD was hardly convinced by Buck's words. He went to take a bite out of the apple pie Mrs. Bridger brought for dessert but he lost his appetite. He pushed the plate away and leaned back in his chair while he waited for the others.
+ + + + + + +
Chris walked up the stairs to the clinic. When he got to the door he opened it slowly and stepped inside. Nathan was sitting on the bed next to Vin sponging him down. Chris couldn't believe how pale Vin was. The tracker's face and neck were tanned but the rest if his body wasn't. Chris was always surprised at the number of scars Vin had along his arms and chest. Chris knew Vin's life hadn't been easy but someone that young shouldn't have so many scars. Nathan hadn't noticed Chris walk in and he continued to bathe Vin.
"Nathan," Chris called.
"Damn it, Chris," Nathan jumped. "Warn a body next time."
"There something you want to tell me," Chris said as he came over and sat in the chair next to Vin.
"Don't know what you're talking about," Nathan said not looking at Chris.
"I know Nathan," Chris growled. "I've seen the signs of Rabies before. How long?"
"I ain't rightly sure it's rabies," Nathan hedged.
"How long?" Chris insisted.
"Maybe a week," Nathan said in defeat. He looked up at Chris to see anger and helplessness raging in his blue eyes.
"Is there anything we can do to make this easy on him?" Chris asked.
"Just try to make him comfortable," Nathan answered. "The laudanum will help with the worst of the pain. I have to go ask Mrs. Travis if I got a package when the stage came through. I'm runnin' low."
"I'll watch Vin," Chris offered.
"Want me to tell the others" Nathan asked.
"Just us," Chris said. "Not the town. I don't want everyone comin' round bothering him."
"Alright," Nathan agreed. "I'll be back as quick as I can."
Nathan left the clinic and headed for the Clarion office. He entered to find Mary leaning over one of the presses with an oil can. When she heard the door open she turned around.
"Oh, hello Nathan," She said wiping her hands on her apron. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Did I get a package on the stage?" he asked.
"No I'm afraid not."
"Were you expecting something important?"
"I was waitin' on a shipment of medical supplies. I'm runnin' low on laudanum for Vin."
"How is he?" Mary asked in concern.
"I got the bullet out," Nathan answered. "Now we just gotta wait and see. I have ta back."
Nathan quickly exited the newspaper office. Mrs. Travis was always looking for stories for the paper and he didn't want her asking too many questions about Vin. He headed back towards the clinic when he saw the others come out of the restaurant. Josiah saw him and walked towards him carrying a covered plate.
"Mrs. Walker made up a plate for you, "Josiah said.
"Thanks Josiah," Nathan said taking it from him. "Can y'all come up to the clinic, there's something I gotta tell ya."
JD turned frightened eyes towards Buck. The lady's man gave him an encouraging smile as he followed Nathan. Ezra followed last thinking he didn't want to take bets on what Nathan had to tell them. They entered the clinic to find Chris trying to ease a muscle spasm in Vin's right leg. Vin was moaning in pain. Nathan placed the plate on the table and went over to give Chris a hand. The spasm stopped and Vin quieted but they could see he was breathing fast. Chris returned to the chair and looked at the others.
"You tell em yet?" he asked.
"No," Nathan said. "Brought them here so it would be private."
"What is it Chris?" Buck asked.
"You all know, but are trying to deny it," Chris said.
"Are you sure Nathan?" Josiah asked.
"I ain't a real doctor, so I can't be sure," Nathan said.
"Am I to assume Mr. Tanner is portraying all the symptoms of this deadly malady," Ezra asked in I tight voice.
"Some of them," Nathan admitted.
"But not all of them," JD said in an eager voice. "Then maybe it isn't rabies."
"It's possible JD," Nathan said. "But I just ain't sure."
"Then we live with that hope," Josiah said. "What can we expect if it is rabies?"
"More of what's going on now," Nathan said. "Towards the end he'll start to drool and go into convulsions."
"Is there anything we can do for him?" JD asked.
"Just keep him warm. Rub him down when he's muscles spasm and try to get him to drink as much as we can," Nathan said. "Laudanum will also help ease the pain. Only problem is I'm running low. One of us is gonna have to head over to Eagle Bend for some more. The shipment I ordered hasn't come yet."
"I'll go!" JD volunteered. He couldn't stay here and watch Vin suffer.
"I don't think he should go alone," Buck said worriedly.
"Aw hell, Buck, it's only a half days ride," JD protested. "I can be there by sundown, spend the night and come back in the morning. Besides if you come that will leave only Josiah and Ezra to watch the town."
Buck knew he was right. Chris wouldn't leave Vin and if anything went wrong Nathan would have to stay close by. Besides the kid was right. It was only a short ride to Eagles Bend what could happen?
"You're right JD," Buck agreed.
"I'll go right now," he cried.
JD raced out the door and disappeared down the stairs. Buck just shook his head.
"Damn fools gonna break his neck," Buck groused.
"We'll take shifts watching Vin," Chris said.
They worked out a schedule for watching Vin and patrolling the town. Chris decided the patrols outside town could stop. There wasn't enough of them to do both. The day passed swiftly as they took turns sleeping, watching Vin and making their patrols. Around midnight Chris was on his way over to the clinic for his turn to watch Vin. He walked in to find Nathan rolling bandages and Buck reading the paper quietly to Vin.
"Hey Chris," Buck said in greeting.
"How's he doing?" Chris asked.
"He's been quiet as a church mouse," Buck said. "We even got him to drink some water."
"Still having to force him?" Chris asked Nathan.
"'Fraid so," he answered. "He just won't do it. I suppose it hurts."
"How's the laudanum holding out?"
"It'll last 'til JD gets back tomorrow afternoon," Nathan assured him.
"Alright, why don't the two of you go get some sleep," Chris said. "I'll keep an eye on him."
Nathan left the clinic and Chris walked over to Vin. Buck got up from the chair so Chris could take his place. Chris sat down and touched Vin's forehead. His fever had come down some but not much. He looked over at Buck.
"You gonna be OK?" Buck asked.
"Yeah Buck," Chris said. "Go get some sleep."
After Buck left Chris leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. He wasn't sure how long he stayed like that but he'd come to a decision. Chris pulled his gun from his holster and stared at it. The tracker had asked him to shoot him if he ended up with rabies. Chris had refused but now he thought it might be the best thing. Vin would only suffer horrible pain as the disease progressed. Chris didn't think he could watch Vin die a slow and agonizing death. He placed the muzzle of the gun next to Vin's head. This was the least he could do for his friend. Chris stared down at Vin and cocked the gun. His finger began to pull on the trigger when Chris cried out and dropped the gun on the bed. Chris placed his hands on either side of Vin's face and looked down at him.
"I'm sorry Vin, I just can't," Chris said.
He let Vin go and picked up his gun. He placed it back in his holster and took Vin's hand. Chris wouldn't give up hope, at least not yet.
JD paced outside the mercantile in Eagle's Bend. He made it to town just before sundown the day before and booked a room at the hotel. Everything was going just like he said it would. Buck just worried too much. He stopped his pacing and peered in the window. The owner was standing behind the counter rearranging some bottles. JD threw up his hands in frustration and resumed his pacing. JD's behavior didn't go unnoticed. Two men were watching him from across the street.
"Hey, Cal, ain't that the sheriff from Four Corners?" Steve Lauer asked.
"Yeah that's him," Carl answered.
"I reckon, I ain't seen anyone with him."
"Alright, go gather some of the boys," Steve instructed. "We're gonna teach those boys a lesson. No one gets murdered in our town and gets away with it."
An hour later JD was walking towards the livery. He had five bottles of laudanum in a box tuck under his arm. JD wasn't paying attention to what was going on around him and was surprised when he was pulled into an alley next to the livery. He was pushed up against the wall and JD saw five men standing in front of him.
"I ain't got but five dollars," JD said. "But you can have it."
"Ain't interested in your money kid," Steve snarled. "What you got in that there box?"
"Medicine for my friend," JD said trying to wriggle out of their arms.
"I think I'll keep this," Steve said as he took the box.
"You give that back mister!" JD shouted struggling harder.
"Oh we'll give it back," Steve smiled. "After you deliver a message." "My friend needs that medicine!" JD growled.
"See boys he's eager to receive the message and be going," Steve laughed. ""OK boys give it to him."
JD wasn't prepared for what happened next. One of the men stepped forward and punched him in the stomach. He doubled over trying to catch his breath. The next thing he knew the rest of the men started beating him up while one held him. The man let him go and JD fell to the ground. He instinctively covered his head with his arms. He cried out as someone kicked him in his ribs> they kicked him a few more times when the beating stopped. JD cringed every time he breathed in. He tasted blood in his mouth and he tried to spit it out when someone grabbed his collar. The tried to focus but he could only see out of his right eye. The left was already swelling shut.
"You with me boy?" Steve asked as he patted JD's cheek. "You're going to deliver a message to Chris Larabee. Tell him Steve Lauer don't let no one get away with murder in his town."
"Medathine," JD mumbled.
"Oh yeah," Steve smiled cruelly. "Tell him the price of medicine has gone up in Eagle Bend."
That afternoon Nathan was rolling bandages at his worktable. Chris was asleep in the chair next to Vin's bed. The tracker's labored breathing was the only sound in the room. His temperature was down to 102 degrees but stubbornly remained there despite Nathan's best efforts. When he was finished rolling the bandages he moved nest to the bed to change the dressings on Vin's forearm and shoulder. Nathan unwrapped Vin's left forearm and examined the bite marks. Nathan found it ironic that both wounds were healing with no complications. He just finished wrapping Vin's arm when the door crashed open. Vin jumped at the noise and Nathan whirled around to find Buck carrying a bloody JD.
"What happened?" Nathan asked as he guided Buck to the extra bed.
"How the hell do I know," Buck said loudly as he placed JD on the bed. "He rode in like that and collapsed in my arms."
Buck turned to yell at Chris when he saw all the commotion was upsetting Vin. The tracker was moving restlessly in the bed and mumbling. Chris leaned over to hear what he was saying.
"Buck come talk to him," Chris said. "He's calling for you."
Buck reluctantly left JD's side and moved over to Vin. He absently ran his fingers through Vin's matted hair.
"Easy Vin," Buck soothed. "I didn't mean to startle you. Just take it easy."
Vin quieted as Buck continued to talk to him. Chris moved over to JD to give Nathan a hand. Once he was stripped of his dirty clothes Nathan began to examine him.
"Damn!" Nathan cursed. "Looks like they kicked him in the ribs. I think at least two of them are broken."
Buck's rather loud entrance hadn't gone unnoticed by the town. Ezra came through the open door and looked around. When he saw the battered body of JD he shut the door and waked over to Buck.
"I will sit with Mr. Tanner," Ezra said. "Josiah is taking JD's horse to the livery. He will return shortly to keep away the curious."
Buck gave Ezra a grateful look and moved over to JD. Chris gave up his place and Buck began to clean the blood from JD's face. The water started to rouse JD and he began to stir.
"Easy JD," Buck said. "You're OK."
"Buck," JD mumbled opening his right eye.
"Hey Kid," Buck smiled. "Thought I told you to stay out of trouble."
"Vin!" JD cried and tried to sit up. "Took his medicine."
"Easy JD," Nathan said as he held his shoulders to the bed. "You got some busted ribs."
"What happened JD?" Chris asked.
"Some men jumped me," JD said as he tried to take shallow breaths. "Told me to give you a message. They're still mad about Nathan's father. Said to tell ya they wouldn't let murderer's go free."
Nathan watched as Chris got a deadly look in his eyes. Buck was just as angry and Nathan knew there would be trouble.
"Let me get you some Laudanum," Nathan said.
"NO!" JD cried crabbing Nathan's arm. "I'm OK save it for Vin. They took the laudanum I was gonna bring back."
"What?" Buck asked shocked.
"They did it to get back at us," JD gasped. "I tried to stop them but there were too many. They said the price of medicine has gone up in Eagle Bend."
"I shall saddle the horses," Ezra said in an angry voice.
The gambler had been so quiet they forgot he was there. Chris locked eyes with Ezra and he nodded. Ezra left the clinic and closed the door.
"JD did they say who they were?" Chris asked.
"Steve Lauer," JD said tiredly. "He was the leader. There was five altogether."
"Nathan are you going to be able to handle both of them?" Buck asked.
"I'll get Mrs. Travis to help," he answered. "We'll be fine you just get them."
"Oh we will Nathan, don't worry," Chris said in a steely voice. He stood and headed for the door."
Chris walked out f the clinic to gather what they would need. He returned a half-hour later to find Buck sitting next to JD. The kid's chest was wrapped in white bandages and Chris could see a huge purple bruise on his side. JD was awake and Chris could see he was in pain. He walked over and looked down at his.
"Nathan, give JD some of the Laudanum," Chris said.
"No, Chris, I'm fine," JD pleaded. "Vin needs it more than me."
"Don't worry JD," Chris said. "I plain on bringing more back."
JD agreed only if they saved some for Vin. Nathan poured him a spoonful then showed JD the bottle. When JD saw there was some left he took the medicine. It didn't take long for it to work when JD's soft snores filled the room. Chris went over to Vin and sat on the bed. He took Vin's hand and leaned over to talk to him.
"Vin I have to leave for a few hours," Chris said. "I'll be back as quick as I can."
Chris sighed as he picked up a cloth and wiped the beads of sweat from Vin's forehead. He wasn't even sure if Vin knew they were there. Chris continued to wipe Vin down when he felt a hand n his shoulder.
"Coming Chris," Buck said. "The sooner we leave the faster we get back."
Chris got up and headed for the door. Buck followed and they both stopped one last time to look.
"Go on we'll be waiting for you when we get back." Nathan said. "Y'all just be careful."
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